This was the trade-deadline day when the Rangers got back into the business of hockey rather than taking comfort in the commerce of kicking the can down the road and hiding behind the organization’s impressive prospects’ rankings.
This was the hierarchy recognizing the importance of keeping Chris Kreider, who worked through the negotiating impasse that had presented itself Sunday night and thus became the first core Rangers forward from the Era of Contention to escape exile upon signing a seven-year extension worth an average of $6.5 million per on which both sides made late concessions.
“We’re young and we’re getting younger,” president John Davidson said. “You need people who can lead the way.”
Being young is not the objective anymore than winning the battle of xGF is the object of the game. It’s about being good, being able to compete at a high level over the long haul, the way the Blueshirts had done on an essentially annual basis for 11 years beginning in 2005-06 before it became time to pay the piper.
If the music did not die, it was muted two years ago when the organization all but began anew. Now, though, cymbals are ringing over the symbolic signing of Kreider, rather than using the 28-year-old winger as the lure to add more draft picks and prospects. This is not about six or seven years from now.
This is about the next two, three and four years through which Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox, Kaapo Kakko and Kreider should be at the height of their powers, but it is also about the next six or seven weeks as the Blueshirts resume their quest for a playoff spot Tuesday at the Coliseum against the Islanders. But the team won’t have the 9-1-0 Igor Shesterkin in nets for this one or for any game over at least the next two or three weeks. That’s because the goaltender will be recuperating from a Sunday night car crash in Brooklyn in which he suffered a non-displaced broken rib while his passenger, Pavel Buchnevich, was badly shaken but escaped injury.
It was some day. There was the news and reverberations from the crash, in which Shesterkin was blameless. There was the surprising news on Kreider. There was a proud Henrik Lundqvist, suddenly restored to backup relevance after weeks of being a displaced person, all but announcing that he will of course meet with management after the season to discuss his role in the organization — if there is one for him — next year.
Oh, and there was the late-day trade of Brady Skjei to Carolina for a 2020 draft pick that went a long way toward alleviating the 2020-21 cap issues that would have confronted Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton following the Kreider deal.
The Blueshirts will have to do some picking and choosing, but they won’t be obligated to rip up the team in order to accommodate new deals for pending restricted free agents Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Strome. They won’t have to trade Buchnevich in order to get under the cap. Whatever maneuvers they make over the offseason, they will be the result of hockey decisions, and not due to punitive cap constraints.
Skjei just never was able to replicate the form he displayed in making the NHL all-rookie team in 2016-17, never could regain the confidence and swagger he displayed as a freshman that complemented his skating and decision-making. A month away from turning 26, the lefty defenseman overwhelmed himself with pressure after signing a six-year deal worth $5.25 million per before 2018-19. He was inconsistent and often indecisive.
The Rangers were decisive Monday. The Blueshirts will have to replace Skjei’s 20:41 total ice time per, third on the team to partner Jacob Trouba and Zibanejad; his 18:21 per at even-strength, second to Trouba; and his 2:34 a night killing penalties, third to Trouba and Marc Staal. But the front office made the hockey decision that it would be easier to replace No. 76 on the first pair than to replace Kreider on the top six. Maybe next year DeAngelo moves to the left, maybe Libor Hajek will be ready, maybe at some time K’Andre Miller will arrive.
More will be expected of Kreider, retained after Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, JT Miller and Kevin Hayes were not. It’s not as if anyone expects No. 20 to blossom into a 40-goal scorer, but the Rangers will need to him to be more visible and make more of an impact away from the scoresheet on a more consistent basis. That is what the Rangers will require from one of the people capable of leading the way.
The Rangers kept a piece of their core, they traded a young defenseman who once was projected to be part of the core and they acquired a first-round draft selection. It was a deadline day of hockey business from a franchise that had been away from it for two years, which has been two too many.